7th February 2004
When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don't you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not! For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ``This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.'' In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ``This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.'' For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognising the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgement on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.— 1 Corinthians 11:20-30
One of the great continued failings of this church is communion. We keep saying we want to do it regularly, but we don't do it.
Ignatius of Antioch called the Eucharist ``the medicine of immortality, the antidote we take in order not to die but to live forever in Jesus Christ.'' (Letter to the Ephesians, 20:2b)
What is it for? What does it achieve? And what are we going to do about it?
I started my preparation for this session by trying to figure out from the bible what communion does for us.
It's true that Jesus does say ``Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.'' (John 6:53). But that does not seem to be the primary focus of the bible on communion.
It seems that communion is not primarily for us, but for Jesus himself. Luke 22:19 tells us, ``He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, `This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.' ''.
So the question ``what does communion do for us?'' is the wrong one. The real issue is that we do it for him. He commanded it. That's enough, isn't it?
Why is this the thing that Jesus chose to ask us to do in remembrance of him? We can think of plenty of other things he could have asked instead:
All of these would have been good rituals for us to observe: they all highlight important facets of Jesus' character: his miraculous power (the feeding of the five thousand), his mercy (the woman) and his servanthood (the foot-washing). But he didn't choose any of these because the part of his life that Jesus most wanted us to remember was his death. ``This is my body, broken you you; this is my blood, shed for you.''
Now Jesus' death on the cross is too easily passed over, because we're so familiar with it. We no longer feel the visceral jolt of understanding what he want through. In our minds, the rough edges get smoothed down over time. One way to get some perspective on what the sacrifice of Jesus meant is to imagine it from God the Father's perspective. That's easier for me to do that for people without their own children: I can get an inkling of what it was like by imagining how I'd feel if Danny decided to give his life for other people. I imagine knowing he's going to do it, and knowing it's the right thing, but also desperately, desperately wanting him not to do it. And then having to watch as it happens. But it's worse than that: there's also an element of the Father's complicity or even his deliberate will in the crucifixion. It's like me making the decision to sacrifice Danny. No wonder Jesus prayed ``Why have you forsaken me?'' (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34, quoting Psalm 22:1).
Communion is intended to ensure that we never forget this.
Now we must ask why, of all that he represents, this is the aspect of Jesus that he most wants us to remember. And the answer is that the cross is the supreme demonstration of God's love for us. Mick Bickle has observed that ``Your passion for God will never exceed the level of your revelation of his passion for you.'' This is very true. And nowhere can we better understand his passion for us than in contemplation of his physical, emotional and spiritual sacrifice.
So although I said earlier that communion is not primarily for our benefit, but for Jesus', it does benefit us - but bringing before us again the supreme love of the Jesus who ``for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame'' (Hebrews 12:2)
Having established that communion is important, how are we going to do it?
Different churches have very different answers to the question of how to do communion, and even different names for it: Holy Communion, Eucharist, the Lord's Supper, the Breaking of Bread.
So the answer to the question of how we're going to do it here is that we don't care. There is not much to recommend any of these methods over any of the others. There's probably no one way that will serve us well, because whatever we do, we eventually become over-familiar with so that it loses its meaning. What we need to do is make sure that we keep the substance of it central, giving it priority over whatever form of ceremony we use.
The point is that however we do it, ``do it in remembrance of Jesus''. That's the whole point.
If you're reading a paper copy of this document, the soft-copy can be found at www.miketaylor.org.uk/xian/communion.html